In the rough and tumble AFC North, there exists as physical a brand of football as one will find in any division in the entire league. However, it’s a rivalry between two of the division’s heavyweights that causes the rest of the league to turn it’s head and watch with anticipation of the next bulletin board clip or car-crash style hit. In essence, it’s arguably the top rivalry in football, and must see television.
What fuels these two rivalries is a common theme of respect for the opposition, but don’t get that twisted because there’s also a downright hatred of one another. Both teams offer almost mirror images of one another, with both their franchise images being based on hard-nosed and physical defense.
“It’s just pure hatred – just like two old-fashioned bullies meeting in an alley,” former Steelers receiving great Hines Ward said, according to Jim Corbett of USA TODAY Sports. “I tried to tell young guys, ‘When its Baltimore week, you tend to stay in the weight room longer because it’s going to be a hard-fought, physical battle.'”
Ranging from tight end Shannon Sharpe referring to Plaxico Burress as “Plexiglas” to Ray Lewis’ devastating hit on Rashard Mendenhall’s shoulder that doctors say is commonly seen in high-impact automobile collisions to Ryan Clark knocking Willis McGahee out cold, it’s as hard-hitting a rivalry as you’ll find, at any level of football.
“It’s the best rivalry in football,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said, according to Corbett. “Hatred is a very strong word, but it seems fitting. But there’s a lot of respect going there. Because the two teams are so similar.”
Suggs has seen his share of battles between the two AFC heavyweights, as evidenced by his 16.5 career sacks on Ben Roethlisberger, the most anyone has on him.
The names have changed on either side, as Ward, James Farrior, Lewis and Ed Reed are no longer on their respective teams, but the bad blood still flows.
“When these two teams play, there’s a level of physicality that comes with it,” Cameron Heyward said, according to Corbett.
The rivalry looks to be as intense as ever, given the fact that Baltimore displaced Pittsburgh from it’s first postseason appearance since 2012, but that comes with an asterisk as the team was minus perhaps the best running back in football, Le’Veon Bell. The Ravens pass rush got after Roethlisberger all night, racking 5 sacks and countless other hurries that caused errant throws.
Given the difficult schedule facing each team in the division next season, the chances are slim-to-none that there’s a third installment to follow up the two regular season games, as likely the division winner will be the only team representing the AFC North in the playoffs. The two teams meet in week 4 and 16, and as we all know, these games aren’t for the faint of heart and the training rooms are often overflowing after these battles.
Whether Pittsburgh will still be fairly healthy heading into the last game of the year before hopefully a playoff run remains to be scene, but the one thing that’s clear is how these two teams feel about one another, and that’s one thing that’s not likely to change.
“Terrell Suggs still hates me,” Ward said, according to Corbett. “I take it as a sign of respect. Because there’s a level of respect between these teams, too.”